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About the Story
You're a jinni whose only talent is petty magic tricks. And now you're looking for a way home, accompanied by possibly the most infuriating human to have walked this earth, and trying to avoid getting trapped in any more jars.
38th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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One of many 2020 IFcomp Twine games that is on rails, High Jinnks rises above due to being generally delightful.
For me, watching a jinni toy with humans is not generally my cup of tea; I prefer my games that take place in the real world to be ground in that reality without magic or mysticism. But gosh darn if it I didn't grin a dozen times while playing this one, probably because there's a heart and soul to these characters I wasn't expecting. The plot itself is forgettable, but the repartee between the jinni and your scrawny human friend is relentless. Sometimes the conversation feels a bit too cavalier and I don't truly buy the motivations of the humans in the story, but all in all it was a good time.
One thing Chamberlain excels at is using the hidden text feature in Twine to great effect. While I wasn't always enamored with the story choices, clicking on the hidden text was a regular treat.
Unfortunately, I did find one endless Twine loop near the end of the game that forced me to restart.
There are certain stories that only really snap into shape once youíve reached the end. Obviously thereís your Memento-type puzzle box stories, or your last-minute-revelation-recontextualizes-everything-thatís-come-before ones (given the authorís pseudonym The Sixth Sense is the obvious name-check). Storytelling like this can be really compelling, even more so in IF where the player winds up not just stepping through the puzzles or individual plot points, but is fiddling with the overall story like itís a Rubikís Cube. But itís also a risky approach, because withholding information on how the world works or a characterís motivation means that the work might not hold together as well when first experienced as it does in retrospect. Despite the authorial name-check, Iím not convinced High Jinnks is actually trying to be a high-stakes twist sort of story. But unfortunately I think the comparison is apt because I found the game does play things a bit too close to the vest, and as a result, doesnít land as effectively as it should given the general strength of most of its elements.
Itís a little tricky to share the setup, since that shifts a fair bit over the course of the 45-minute or so playtime. Youíre playing a jinn whoís able to take human form, but from the off you donít have much in the way of motivation: youíre just emerging from a casino where youíve fleeced a hapless mortal, at which point youíre free to wander without being pointed towards or away from anything in particular. Thereís not much worldbuilding initially, which left me with a large number of basic questions about the main characterís wishes and desires (like, do all-powerful wish-granting jinn actually need money?), and therefore what I should be trying to do. A motivation does eventually emerge Ė the aforementioned fleeced mortal stole back the money you won off them, so you want to find them and get it back (though again, is this just a pride thing?) Ė and from that point on itís usually clear what your next, immediate goal should be. But until the very end, the broader question of your characters goals and situation, as well as more nuts-and-bolts questions about whatís actually happening, weigh down what ultimately should be a heart-warming supernatural buddy comedy.
Some of this is due to unclear writing. I often found myself mouthing ďhuh?Ē at a passage where befuddlement was not, I think, the intended response. (Spoiler - click to show) I still donít really understand the whole sequence where Ali traps the main character, and then releases him Ė and the whole sequence where Hakeem comes home was really off-kilter. But more often, itís due to the choice to have the main character know far more than the player, without revealing that knowledge. Sometimes this is OK when itís clear that itís setting something up Ė Iím thinking of the gag with the (Spoiler - click to show)coffee maker, or decorative mirror, orÖ Ė but more often, the player character is making plans, or heading places, based not just on clever plans that will be sprung at the right moment, but on critical, character-driven goals that the player just isnít let in on. The whole sequence after (Spoiler - click to show)killing Malik is like this Ė trying to get revenge on the sorcerer out to get the main character makes sense, but then youíre led through a series of plot points involving summoning another jinn, and then trying to break a curse theyíve put on you, and itís only towards the end that you realize that the whole premise of the game is that the main character has been cursed to not be able to kill (by the by, being hell-bent on lifting this curse does not make for the most sympathetic protagonist) and exiled from the society of other jinns (which is incredibly hide-bound in a parody of government bureaucracy that also feels like it comes out of nowhere). This is really relevant information for understanding who this character is! As a result, while there are a good amount of choices and some reactivity, I found they typically didnít feel meaningful because I lacked context for what I was trying to do.
The other questionable storytelling technique is to interrupt the main thread of the plot with vignettes and flashbacks, mostly drawn from or inspired by the actual stories in the Thousand and One Nights, as best I could tell. These are all right as far as they go, but I found they didnít do much besides interrupt the plot and make it a bit shaggier, as they werenít very related to the main story either narratively or thematically Ė the jinn in the flashbacks seems to behave differently than the contemporary one, and while the main characterís backstory is actually very important, those pieces are entirely separate from whatís in the flashbacks (Spoiler - click to show)Ė including the vignette involving the death of the protagonistís child, which felt like it should have some impact!
This is all a shame, because when you know whatís going on in High Jinnks, I think thereís a solid story under there, and while the prose can sometimes be unclear, thereís also some good writing Ė I liked the way the relationship between the jinn and Ali (the hapless mortal from the casino, who winds up playing a significant role) evolved over time. There are also some really good jokes. But these storytelling missteps, plus a few technical niggles Ė I hit a dead link early on when trying to hit on a random I think drug-dealer, and later on I wound up at a park despite having opted to visit a library instead Ė undermined my enjoyment, to the extent that I went through the first chunk of the game half-convinced that the title hid a second pun and everybody, myself included, was just baked out of their damned minds, for all the sense anything was making. Thereís a lot thatís promising here, though, so unlike with M. Night Shyamalan, I look forward to the authorís future work.
So this game has you play as an ancient jinn trying to get back some cash from a hustler.
This is a pretty long Twine game, with interesting styling and good sentence-by-sentence writing and also excellent worldbuilding. It also features romance of several kinds and stories within stories.
I found the story and the interactivity fairly good, but I feel like they could go further. There are different layers to games: if they're buggy or full of typos, nothing else really matters, the game's just too weird to play. If it's not buggy but the interactivity is really frustrating or the text is boring, then it just makes you want to stop.
This game clears all of those hurdles (which is a real feat in and of itself), but I think it misses the last one, which consists of things like emotional depth and compelling gameplay.
The characterization of the player and NPCs are all over the place. Sometimes we want to murder everyone, sometimes we're lonely. Sometimes we want things for years, and then a second later we don't. Our main ally goes from assertive to passive to aggressive to loving.
And the interactivity often seems like 'Do things this way or do things the same way but with different phrasing'. I feel like it missed some chances to let you consistently characterize yourself or provide long-lasting effects. There are some choices to do such things though (I especially enjoyed [spoiler]the effects of buying a leopard-print shirt.[/spoiler] )
I think this is a good game, but I think this author is capable of making an entirely awesome game, and that's why I pointed out those specific things. Your mileage may vary!
+Polish: No bugs in my playthrough, nice styling
+Descriptiveness: Writing was vivid and funny.
-Interactivity: I felt like the choices weren't very effective.
-Emotional impact: I couldn't get a read on people's motivations and characteristics.
+Would I play again? Yes, this game was pretty fun!
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